It might be fun during some evening of casual fellowship to play a little game which we might call “First Lines.” Mankind has been writing books for thousands of years now, and many of them have begun with interesting or powerful opening sentences. I know some Christians who say they never read secular or fictional literature, sticking only to Christian literature, Christian biography or theology. I pity those people, because they are keeping themselves of some of God’s great blessings. Do they also deprive themselves of the fragrances of the garden and the taste of fresh fruit? In the midst of disgusting and evil things, there are all kinds of secular blessings which God has given us to enjoy, and good literature is one of them.
But getting back to that little game. I wonder how many can hear the opening line to some great book and identify the author or the title? For example, how many of you recognize these words? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” (A Tale of Two Cities). “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby-Dick). “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice). “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” (The Old Man and the Sea). “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ).
When I asked my computer for lists of the greatest first lines in literature it said there were 68.8 million. So obviously, just about everyone has an opinion, but what is yours? What would you say is the absolute greatest opening sentence in any book? I can’t speak for you, but at the top of my list would have to be right here – John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” How can any collection of human words compare to those words of the Holy Spirit through John? It sets the table for a feast so rich, so spiritually and intellectually nourishing, so tasty – that the guests who dine here may never need to eat again.
While asking the Lord for a message to share with you this morning, I looked through some notes I had jotted down at least 40 years ago. On one line, next to this text, I has written four words – “Christ revealed, rejected” and “received.” When was the last time you meditated on one of the greatest opening paragraphs in the Word of God?
We have here – the Word REVEALED.
My brief note said this speaks of “Christ,” and while that is true, the title “Christ” isn’t found before verse 17. The Person described here is initially designated only as “the Word” – “Logos.” As we shall see, “the Word” is described as “the Light” and the Creator – life and in other special ways. But the only “name” we have seems to be something special within the God-head.
I know that it is popular in these day of familiarity, but this scripture isn’t speaking about “Jesus.” As I have often said, “Jesus” is the name of Christ in His incarnate appearance – His humanity. The Apostle John isn’t afraid to speak of “Jesus,” but that name would be inappropriate in these verses. And yes, I see the name “Jesus” in verse 17 and later, but at least initially the name is sanctified by the title “Christ”– “Messiah” – the anointed of God. “Jesus” is not the life and “the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” – “the Word “is. “Jesus” didn’t create the universe – “the Word – “the Son of God” – did. I know that it is mostly semantics, but my heart tells me that the name “Jesus.” doesn’t set my Saviour in His most glorious light.
The greatest opening line in human vocabulary, introduces to us the subject of the Trinity – the Triune God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He who is the Word existed in the very beginning – before the creation of the universe or anything else. Some religious fools say that Christ is a created being – an angel of sorts – a brother of Lucifer. But they are wrong – they are heretics. Not only was the Word in beginning and with God, He was then and is still now, God himself. It is difficult to explain how God the Son can be separate from God the Father, and yet they still be one God, but that is what the Bible declares in many scriptures. And that is one of the things which makes this one of the greatest of all sentences in any language.
How has that eternal the Word revealed Himself? “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Feel free to deny divine creation if you like, but remember that in doing so, you are throwing away every other scripture along with this one and also every shred of scientific fact and spiritual substance. Without implying my full understanding, it appears that Jehovah God chose to reveal Himself by creating someone to worship Him.
And into various parts of that creation, the Word breathed life. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” There is life in our bodies because Christ put it there through His original creation and through His providential will. Christ created light and the sun to shine down on His creation, but he also created life into in the eye of that creature He put another kind of light. The purpose of that life and light was to enable us to perceive our Creator – to love Him and worship Him.
I know that some say they are worshiping the Creator when they are actually worshiping the creature. They enjoy the beauty of the lakes, mountains and the seas of the world. But when they place the majesty of Mt. Rainier above the One who formed it, they become idolaters. Who is this Word, the Creator we are to adore? His earthly name is “Jesus the Christ.” Christians are people who give thanks unto the Father, because He has enabled them to enjoy “His inheritance as saints in light:” He “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”
This Word – the Son of God – like a laser, has been shining through the darkness of fallen, sinful creation. And there have been God-ordained men and women throughout history who have pointed to that light. John the Baptist was one of those men. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” L:ike John, Enoch, Noah and Elijah have urged God’s creatures to remember and worship their Creator. There have been prophets and apostles, fathers and mothers, who have tried to tell their children that the worship of Jehovah is as necessary as breathing clean air and eating healthy food. But here is a problem – we come into this world as fallen creatures — skeptical, myopic and self-centered. We are more prone NOT to believe than to believe the testimony of a third person. I can tell you that the Son of God has come, or that He is coming again, but the world is not likely to believe a person like me – you may not believe me.
So, the Lord took steps to personally bring His revelatory light into the darkness. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” He who has seen Christ Jesus has seen God the Father. He who is the Word is the image of the invisible God. He is “the brightness of God’s glory and express image of His person.” “He is the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” But then we run into the second word in my long-lost outline.
The Word was REJECTED.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Is there anything which proves the depravity of man any more than this?
How often has someone been present at the hatching of some little bird – a duck, a chicken, a wild goose or crane, and those baby birds decided that person was their mother? Stories abound of little birds following that human being, as if they were of the same species. And then we come to that puppy, raised by a little girl, and its love and care drives it to protect that child with its own life. But does the average man love and cherish his Creator in the same way? What has happened?
The Bible quite clearly explains what happened. God created and revealed Himself to our first parents, teaching them to put Him first in their lives. But following his wife, Adam, chose to reject the will of the Lord, and in the process he rejected the Lord. Then when that first couple brought their family into the world, the sin in their parental veins was shared with their children, which was then passed on to their children, and so on and so on. Until the day in which “the Word” became incarnate – When the Son of God took upon himself human flesh. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”
There has been transferred into every tiny childish heart the same upward floating word – “no.” “No, God, I don’t care what you say, I want to eat the fruit which you have forbidden.” “No, God, I would much rather choose my own way, than to follow yours.” “No, God, I don’t want to worship you, I would rather worship myself in the guise of a god of my own design.” Man had been saying “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” several thousand years before anyone came up with crucifixion as a means of execution. And we have been saying the same thing long since crucifixion has been abolished. “No, God, we will not have this Word to rule over us.” “We want to choose our own path to happiness – pleasure.” “We want to fabricate our own standard of worship, because despite allowing you to wear the name, you are not really our god.”
The promised Messiah of Israel came unto His own nation and his own nation received Him not. The Creator came unto His own creation and that creation received Him not. The light shined into the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. Almost always, when a beam of light pierces the darkness, it can be seen. But there are circumstances when that light is completely swallowed up by the darkness. Shine a flash light directly up into the night sky and often you can’t see the beam. And in deep space, there are places which apparently consume any and all light. In either case, we have an illustration of the thoroughly corrupt nature of the human heart, where natural light disappears into the abyss of depravity. Our hearts are more dense and more wicked than the black holes of outer space. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”
But in some relatively rare cases the Word has been RECEIVED.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” There is a great difference between being created by God and being born of God. For example, the life-giving cycle of water – rain, river, sea and evaporation – was created by God. And even though it has been in operation for over 6,000 years, it has no life of its own. God created minerals like silver, gold and copper, but they have no life. This scripture tells us that the Word came unto His own creation – people – but they rejected him. The majority rejected Him because their hearts were like stone. Their spirits were as dead as fossilized trees. But some received him, and the reason was that they had been born of God. Those people who had been born and therefore had life – received the Word. But those who had no life, ignored and rejected Him. All of our babies, have physical existence, but like a small gold nugget, they may be nothing but lifeless chunks of beautiful stone. YOU may have been created by God, but not yet been born of God – born again.
I’d like you to look at verses 12 and 13 very carefully, considering the words and even the grammar. I know that John tells us about receiving the Word, before we are told about being born of God. But ask yourself, does the grammar of these verses say that is the actual order? “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Doesn’t this say that they who received Him did so because they were born, not of blood, but of God? Remember that other scriptures teach us that children were not BORN legal sons and heirs of their fathers – sonship came through adoption at a later date. This scripture declares that those who are born of God, receive and believe the Word, and then become full-fledged sons of God.
I know this is not commonly preached among the new brand of Christian Evangelicals, but the Word of God is clear. People whose hearts are as dead as smooth, granite river rock, can not, will not receive Him who is “the Word.” They never can and never will. There is nothing they can do except continue to roll down the creek bed into the sea, because they have no life in themselves. They will continue to “receive Him not.”
It is not until they are born again – born not of human blood or of the flesh or by the choice of mother and father, but by God, that they will have hearts willing to receive the Christ of this scripture. When a sin-dead soul is regenerated – “quickened,” “made alive” – he or she will believe on the One whose name is “the Word.” It is only after someone is born again that he will “receive” Christ. And that regeneration is a gift of pure, divine grace.
They will “receive Him.” What does that mean? It means to recognize and accept “the Word” as being WITH God and one with God – in the beginning. To “receive Him” means submission to who He is – submission to His authority as Lord, Creator, God and Saviour. This is not referring to some superficial plea for Him to enter one’s heart or to guide one’s life. There is no closer synonym to “receive” in this case than the word “surrender”? Anything less than full surrender remains rebellion and some degree of rejection.
What do you suppose was the Spirit’s purpose in giving us this scripture? The first was to glorify Christ Jesus – “the Son of God” – the eternal “Word.” Second, it was to point out that by nature, mankind has no interest in giving “the Word” what is due unto His name. And third, it was to tell us all that we need to receive Him – YOU need to receive Him. Without receiving and submitting to the Word, no one will ever become children of God. We will live and die “knowing him not” – and that means eternal death.
Have you received Him? Listen to the Holy Spirit as He tells you to cast yourself down before “the Word” in humble repentance. Recognize that He has given you faith sufficient to trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Surrender to Him this morning.